Orange County Hanukkah Celebrations Begin, Spirits Remain Bright

OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

The menorah lighting display inside Fashion Island is in partnership with the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.

The first lighting of menorahs for Hanukkah began Thursday in Orange County with celebrations at home and with worship by virtual gatherings rather than in person.

The Jewish holiday is an eight-day festival representing perseverance of the Jewish faith and commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after persecution of the Jewish people and defilement of the temple. The holiday begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, this year beginning Dec. 10.

“The story of Hanukkah is as relevant to COVID today as it was 2,000 years ago,” said Chabad of Laguna Niguel Rabbi Mendy Paltiel. “The message is of love over darkness, kindness over tyranny.”

In the past nine months, Paltiel says he has seen firsthand the very real struggles people are facing — whether it be because of hardships with finances, health or isolation. But he says this is actually a very unique and special time.

“The challenges are very real and I have calls daily from people struggling,” Paltiel said. “But many people have also found opportunities — more time with their families and their spouses and because they are restricted at home they are connecting in ways that were not possible before COVID — that’s a beautiful thing.”

He also shared that Chabad Laguna Niguel has seen dramatic growth in attendance with in-person worship moved to virtual gatherings. “If we had tens of people now we have hundreds and maybe even more than that,” Paltiel said. He says that worship was capable of moving online prior, but COVID pushed the issue and now attendees who did not have time or did not want to attend in person can now join virtual faiths.

“The reality is that we are seeing blessings despite the great challenges and setbacks that COVID has brought upon all of us. Light always prevails over darkness and truth always prevails over lies.”

Chabad of Laguna Niguel Rabbi Mendy Paltiel

And worship at home rather than in the synagogue has moved Paltiel to do more soul-searching — seeing the inspiration of being in a synagogue with choirs and hundreds of people, but also realizing that in-person worship is always intended on preparing people to be better human beings, spouses, parents and community members.

“Take the energy and reach out — reach out to people who are having a more difficult time than yourself, lend a helping hand,” Paltiel said. “Then suddenly your whole perspective will change, you will feel uplifted and you will feel a desire to do more.”

With COVID restrictions throughout the world and a stay-at-home order in Orange County, the lighting of a menorah at Fashion Island on Dec. 10 was one of a few live, collective points, save for virtual gatherings.

And yet as in-person events are canceled, Jewish organizations and local synagogues are creative in finding ways to bring people together to celebrate the time. Here are a few local and virtual offerings this Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Events

Hanukkah Klezmer Concert

Orange County’s Jewish Federation & Family Services, 7 p.m. Dec. 13

The concert, hosted by Orange County’s Jewish Federation & Family Services, invites the musical talents of Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi to perform on the fourth night of Hanukkah. Strom is known for composing his own New Jewish music that’s infused with klezmer, jazz, Roma, classical and other sounds that has carried the tradition of writing original Jewish music, with Yiddish lyrics, touching on humanitarian and social issues. 

Outdoor Hanukkah Lights

Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 16

The Jewish Community Center originally planned a community candle lighting gathering, but it has since been canceled due to COVID restrictions. In its place, the center’s staff will light an outdoor menorah in addition to other outdoor lights at sunset on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Laguna Niguel Virtual Menorah Lighting

A virtual presentation, 4-5 p.m. Dec. 13

A virtual celebration with Chabad of Laguna Niguel, including lighting of the menorah and a reading from the Torah. For more information, call 949-831-7701.

Skirball Hanukkah Celebration

Streaming on YouTube at 3 p.m. Dec. 13

The Skirball Cultural Center is hosting its annual Hanukkah Festival online this year, due to COVID-19. The Festival of Lights will include a community candle lighting and a lively sing-along. Musical performers will include L.A. klezmer band Mostly Kosher and Israeli psychedelic funk star Gili Yalo. Folks will retell the age-old Hanukkah story, and those watching live can participate in a virtual game for prizes. Free; register here for the Zoom link.

Virtual Festival of Lights

A YouTube presentation for Hanukkah

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presented a virtual Festival of Lights including presentations by musicians, artists and a pajama library reading session.

Virtual Hanukkah Programs with the Jewish Museum

Virtual programs via the Jewish Museum’s website

The Jewish Museum in New York offers virtual programs this Hanukkah including a tour of the museum’s collection of Hanukkah lamps with a workshop on creating your own folded sculptural menorah book, a Nefesh Mountain concert led by singer Doni Zasloff and her instrumentalist husband Eric Lindberg.